Boycotting palm oil increases deforestation.

Palm oil has caused extensive loss of tropical forest [7]. So, it seems a logical conclusion that boycotting palm oil should reduce deforestation. This is not true. As is often the case, this belief is the result of overly simplistic messages being portrayed by the media [1]. Let us explain:

Palm oil is in food, soap, and other everyday products [4]. Companies could use other oils [5], but pick palm oil for a very good reason: it is the most efficient vegetable oil crop to grow [2,5]. For example, per kg, rapeseed oil requires 4 times as much land, and soy oil 12 times as much [11], leading to loss of forest in areas like the Amazon [1], China, or Canada [12]. It also needs less fertiliser, pesticides, and causes less water shortage [1,2,14]. Plus, since the farmland is trees, rather than annual crops, it houses more wildlife than other crops [9].

If we boycott palm oil, industries will be forced to use less efficient oils… This would make the situation even worse.

It is estimated that the world’s demand for palm oil for food will roughly double by 2050 [8]. While this is a lot, the demand could be met by increasing yields from existing farmland, and planting on human-made grassland – no more deforestation is needed [8].

So why isn’t it happening? Farmers can get an RSPO certification if they use sustainable methods [10]. Sadly, there is little demand for RSPO palm oil, due to its higher price [6]. Only about 20% of palm oil is certified, and half of that is not even sold with this label (and price) [1]. If we buy products containing RSPO palm oil, we increase demand, and farmers will stop cutting down forest in order to get the certification [5]. The world’s markets are choosing cheap over sustainable.

Consuming less stuff will reduce resource use, so we should generally buy less. When we buy things containing oil, palm oil can be a bad or good option [14]. If it is made unsustainably, it’s terrible. But if it’s RSPO certified, it’s the best option [13]. We have to pay a little more for certified oil, but it’s worth it!

So, we should campaign for SUSTAINABLE palm oil, not against it altogether!

References

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